Phys­i­cal flu­ency

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Reviews - — Michael Wade Simp­son

Artists of­ten op­er­ate in a world of their own mak­ing. It is the rest of us who look to their art as a way to un­der­stand or tran­scend the fre­quently bleak big pic­ture we can’t so eas­ily es­cape. On a day when earth­quakes and tsunami waves were killing thou­sands in Ja­pan, Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let of­fered a new piece by Ni­colo Fonte at the Len­sic that was as tran­scen­dent as a prayer.

Where We Left Off is the sev­enth piece com­mis­sioned by ASFB from Fonte, clearly one of the fa­vorite chore­og­ra­phers of the com­pany’s direc­tors. The piece is not strik­ingly orig­i­nal in its el­e­ments, but beauty, in this case, is its own re­ward. From the two ex­cerpts of piano mu­sic by Philip Glass ( Mad Rush and Me­ta­mor­pho­sis No. 2) to the Twyla Tharpian white-pa­jama cos­tum­ing by Mark Zap­pone to the gor­geous light­ing by Seah John­son, the piece of­fered soft-edged lyri­cism and painterly im­agery, some­thing that Aspen Santa Fe has ven­tured away from re­cently but is highly wel­come.

For ev­ery au­di­ence mem­ber who has ever grum­bled about Aspen Santa Fe not re­ally be­ing a bal­let com­pany (no toe shoes, no corps de bal­let, no Giselle), let it be said, once and for all, who cares? When a chore­og­ra­pher like Fonte has 10 beau­ti­fully trained, pas­sion­ate dancers at his dis­posal, and he show­cases their abil­i­ties in a move­ment lan­guage that in­ter­ests him, that is worth see­ing no mat­ter what genre is be­ing ex­plored. Yes, Fonte uses the kind of swirling, ex­pres­sive, mo­men­tum-based move­ment that has of­ten been associated with great mod­ern-dance chore­og­ra­phy, but so does Christo­pher Wheel­don, one of the bright­est lights in in­ter­na­tional bal­let-mak­ing these days. Artists have a man­date to ex­plore the fu­sion of forms and the ex­pan­sion of ex­ist­ing vo­cab­u­lar­ies, un­less we want bal­let to be­come some kind of dancing mu­seum.

One of the things that sep­a­rates Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let from many other com­pa­nies is the sense of al­most tribal egal­i­tar­i­an­ism on dis­play — ev­ery­one is a soloist. Big group pieces are an­other mod­ern­dance sta­ple, but when ex­tended so­los and duets are de-em­pha­sized, and the al­most anony­mous power of the group has an op­por­tu­nity to co­a­lesce into a shim­mer­ing flow of over­lap­ping im­ages, as it does in Fonte’s cre­ation, the na­ture of the dance it­self be­comes more ev­i­dent than it might in a piece that is bro­ken into a more hi­er­ar­chi­cal struc­ture. Of­ten mes­mer­iz­ing, like the mu­sic of Glass, Where We Left Off puts aside edgy, asym­met­ri­cal part­ner­ing for the most part, leaves aside irony and phys­i­cal games­man­ship and ex­plores grace — in terms of move­ment as well as the spir­i­tual con­no­ta­tion. This is a dance of wist­ful­ness, an el­egy per­haps, but in the dy­ing light, the Aspen Santa Fe dancers ex­press hu­man­ity as a higher call­ing.

Stamp­ing Ground, a Jirˇ í Kylián dance chore­ographed for the Ned­er­lands Dans The­ater in 1983 and newly ac­quired by ASFB, is a foil to the highly tech­ni­cal, densely chore­ographed pieces the com­pany has of­fered in re­cent con­certs. In some ways, its jokey, body-slap­ping sim­plic­ity comes across as a mash-up of Pilobo­lus, Paul Tay­lor, and Cirque du Soleil — cer­tainly not in­tended to be deep or emo­tional. Just as well. The way dancer Emily Proc­tor took to the gy­ra­tions and gym­nas­tic vaude­ville of the piece on March 11, along with the five other dancers (there were al­ter­nat­ing casts), made up for the piece’s clown­ing silli­ness with sheer de­light. The per­cus­sion score by Car­los Chávez came as a re­lief af­ter the first part of the dance: a se­ries of so­los with comic over­lap took place in si­lence ex­cept for the stamp­ing of the dancers’ feet on the ground and the sound of dancers slap­ping their own bod­ies. Mu­sic, please.

Un­even, an ASFB-com­mis­sioned work by Cayetano Soto that the com­pany has been tour­ing around the coun­try since its pre­miere in Aspen last July (and per­for­mance in Santa Fe shortly af­ter), con­tin­ues to be a show­case for some of the more risky-look­ing part­ner­ing and thrilling phys­i­cal feats for ev­ery­one in the com­pany. If see­ing dancers turn on their knees is dif­fi­cult for you to watch, this is not the dance for you. How­ever, Kather­ine Bo­laños, a vet­eran com­pany mem­ber, ate up the stage in the work. Her per­for­mance, in ad­di­tion to that of Katie Dehler and Sa­man­tha Klanac, showed how ca­pa­ble these dancers are of adapt­ing to the edgier new­fan­gled chore­og­ra­phy now com­ing out of Europe (al­though Wil­liam Forsythe be­gan con­tort­ing dancers this way more than 20 years ago). Wil­liam Can­non and Joseph Wat­son, in a wildly ath­letic duet, of­fered prob­a­bly the most ex­cit­ing 30 sec­onds on­stage at the Len­sic all year. On the other hand, Sam Chit­ten­den, with his princely good looks, had a soft touch in his ap­proach to both part­ner­ing and solo work. It’s as if he found all the thrash­ing dis­taste­ful and pre­ferred to hold his part­ners with ten­der­ness — damn the chore­og­ra­phy.

Seia Rassenti in Jiˇrí Kylían’s Stamp­ing Ground; top, Sam Chit­ten­den and Katie Dehler in Un­even by Cayetano Soto; pho­tos Ros­alie O’Con­nor

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